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Kokoro as ecological insight : the concept of heart in Japanese literature Sherlock, Eric Thomas


The concept of kokoro forms a central motif in the poetic theory of Japanese literature. The genesis of kokoro resides in the Shinto understanding that the kami no kokoro, or "the heart of the deity" forms an important bond between the human and spiritual worlds. With increasing Buddhist influence, the concept of kokoro evolves, historically, toward being an ideal for a way of life, and in its medieval variant as mushin (kokoro nashi) approaches being understood in metaphysical terms. Kokoro is defined in this paper as "an innate capacity for feeling which is the innermost nature of things with which binds them to each other". In the Kojiki and the Manyoshu, kokoro. was perceived from a materialistic basis as a physical organ in the human body that responds to emotion. At the same time, kokoro was understood as the seat of an expressive instinct in all beings that urges them toward mutual identification, experienced as metaphor in the human imagination. Kino Tsurayuki's Preface to the Kokinshu reveals such a trans-species identification through the universal capacity for kokoro and the poetic instinct this implies. The historical crisis of the twelfth century and the decline of the Heian court precipitated a new interpretation of the tradition of kokoro. A conflict between an optimistic Shinto-esoteric Buddhist affirmation of the spiritual unity of the physical world and the more general Buddhist notion that the world had entered a degenerate age (mappo) forged in literature the notions of yugen and ushiiitei whereby a profound aesthetic penetration into nature reveals an absoluteness of reality within the relativity of the world. The emphasis of a poetry of kokoro seeking to express an absolute truth about life found new expression and continuity in the Zen-inspired notion of mushin. Mushin confronted a paradox within the concept of kokoro when seen from a Buddhist perspective. Through the doctrine of Codependent Origination, kokoro could not inherently be limited to any single perspective or place, and thus its final unfindability (mu) is the kokoro of kokoro, its intrinsic quality of mushin. Such an understanding underpins the Noh of Zeami and Basho's haiku. Finally, the literary tradition of kokoro expression is submitted to a universal theory of language evolution as discussed in Northrop Frye's The Great Code. It is concluded that the Japanese kokoro tradition kept alive for over one thousand years the metaphorical identification of man and nature. The sciences of biology and quantum physics are now urging a similar ecological vision that gives the literary tradition of kokoro in Japan its special importance to the modern world.

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